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Jeff Raught
Jeff Raught

Jeff has been meandering his way through life with songs and stories for many years. Finding the humor in unexpected places and delivering it in a way that only Jeff can. Connecting the dots, or maybe helping to erase them. It is a delightful blend of music that has flavors of blues, gospel and hints of The American Songbook.

For a new twist on some old yarn....

Read more here.

Various ensembles over thirty-ish years.
Various ensembles over thirty-ish years.

I play bass guitar (currently a five string "MTD").

I've played in churches (I'm part of a folk group in a Catholic church at present), pubs - nasty and nice, concerts, coffee houses and assorted other environments.

I've played in duos, full bands (three, four, five piece) and other configurations. I've had the good fortune to be part of a number of recording sessions as well.

I play by ear and use chord charts frequently. I am learning to "read" but am at a beginner level in that regard.

There are very few types of music that I don't like. I've played rock, country, gospel, reggae, folk and even some classical at a semi-serious to pretty serious level.

I'm a sucker for a great melody, a cool riff or a worthwhile lyric. If all three elements converge in a song great; I will, however, settle for one or two of them. :-)

Read more here.

"A Few Ways to be a Mennonite: Contemporary Christian Music in a Community of Hymns." By Stephanie Krehbiel.

In Sound in the Land, edited by Maureen Epp, and Carol Ann Weaver, 201-209. Kitchener: Pandora Press, 2005.
The following excerpt of Krehbiel's paper (pp. 201-204) appears by kind permission of Pandora Press.

In the summer of 1999, National Public Radio's Morning Edition reported on the annual conference of the Mennonite Church U.S.A., held that year in St. Louis. In this story, thousands of Mennonites were heard singing several bars of a four-part hymn in a resonant hall. The reporter then interjected, "Now this is no choir, mind you, this is how Mennonites praise their God."

The reporter's assessment of "how Mennonites praise their God" was one with which many Mennonites would likely agree. Mennonite worship can be stark and lacking in ritual in comparison with that of other Christian denominations; because of this, congregational singing frequently provides the most affective moments in a worship service. Given the centrality of congregational singing in Mennonite religious practice, there has always been a great deal of discussion--and controversy--over what should be sung. In recent years, Christian churches throughout the United States have contended with the influence of contemporary Christian music on their worship, and Mennonites, having almost entirely lost their historically separatist lifestyle, face this challenge alongside their Christian peers.
The congregations of the Salem and Salem-Zion Mennonite Churches in the rural area east of Freeman, South Dakota are the focus of this paper. Freeman, a town of approximately 1300 in the southeastern part of the state, is like many small, agricultural communities today--struggling for survival amidst an economic landscape hostile to the interests of small-scale farming. Music plays a key role in this struggle, providing both entertainment and spiritual sustenance for the hard working and financially strained members of Freeman's rural churches.

During my fieldwork in the community in the summer of 2002, the church members I spoke with were particularly eager to discuss the impact of contemporary Christian music on their congregations. While this music has never been whole-heartedly embraced by either Salem or Salem-Zion, it has made an entrance in the community sufficient to activate both controversy and serious introspection about the purpose of music in worship. I argue in this paper that the introduction of contemporary Christian music into the Freeman churches has forced people to confront the impact of the outside world on their small community--not only the secular influences traditionally shirked by Mennonites, but the influence of evangelical Christianity. The community's various responses to these influences indicate that even in a town of 1300, there is more than one way to be a Mennonite.

One could easily write on what this music should be called; one could also take the term "contemporary Christian music" as a starting point for discussion of what music belongs in that category. I won't pursue either of these avenues in this paper; other writers have admirably tackled the task of defining and categorizing this music. Because people in Freeman tend to use the phrase "praise music," I use it interchangeably with "contemporary Christian music." Other variants that I have heard include "chorus music," "contemporary worship music," and "praise and worship music." Generally, this music uses non-liturgical instruments, such as guitars, drums, bass, and electronic keyboard. There tends to be less written harmony than in hymns, although those comfortable with the genre add harmonies of their own.

At the Salem-Zion church, or "North" church, as it is known in the community, Pastor Abe Duerksen selects the majority of the hymns for worship services. When asked his views on what music needs to accomplish in a worship setting, he mentioned contemporary Christian music, and explained why he generally shies away from it:
The praise music that I have been familiar with… tends to draw attention to the singer rather than to the one to whom you are supposed to be singing in a worship setting. And I, as a pastor, sense that that in my way of evaluating worship, [this] is not the direction I should be leading my people and pointing my people, and that singing as well as scripture or prayer or preaching, ought to be pointing us to God and to our creator, and music can be a part of that…. It should focus and direct our thoughts, our attention, our aspirations our praise toward--toward our God, toward Christ. And the expression of God. Praise music, generically, is weak in doing that. I won't say it never does that. But it's more focused on "my feelings" and "I want", and "I like", and "I"--you find that personal pronoun in a lot of chorus music, or praise music, very frequently. And, again, it's an acculturation of Christianity is what it is, in my opinion.

Abe, who has served at Salem-Zion for eleven years, made sure I knew he wasn't a musician: "If you're looking for somebody who knows a lot about music, you're interviewing the wrong person," he said. He hasn't had much musical training, and selects hymns based completely on their texts and the relevance of those texts to the theme of the service. (While in Freeman, I heard numerous compliments on his gift for hymn-selection, the most striking coming from a teenage girl who spoke of how powerful the hymn had been after a sermon in which Abe spoke about caring for his wife, who has early-onset Alzheimer's.) When the subject of contemporary Christian music came up in our conversation in the context of a discussion about the latest Mennonite hymnal, Abe explained the shortcomings that he saw, based on the textual message he believes this music delivers.

Abe's perspective on this music was familiar to me, not only from other Freeman consultants, but also from other Mennonites I've spoken with at other churches I have visited or attended. My search for another point of view led me to Joleen Miller, the recently-hired assistant pastor at Salem, or the "South" church. Joleen, whose primary responsibilities rest with youth ministry, has been actively engaged in contemporary worship since her college years, when she majored in Christian ministry with an emphasis in youth ministry. Joleen has been doing her best to bring contemporary Christian music to the South Church, and her efforts, while welcomed by some, also meet with considerable resistance. I asked her how she would explain her choices to a person who didn't understand her approach to worship, and in response, she said this:
…sometimes you're just overwhelmed with love for your dad. And he maybe doesn't even, haven't done anything, but you want to tell him--you love him, just because, you know, and for me, that's somewhat the same in worship. God might not have done specifically that I'm--you know, like this huge thing in my life right at this moment, but sometimes you're just overwhelmed--and you just want to tell him you love him. And that you worship him. And that, you know, he's worthy... somehow you just want to--to me it's kind of a feeling of just crawling up into your dad's lap. And just…hugging him and telling him you love him and I think for me, contemporary worship allows me to do that more so with God. Where you can just kind of, just be yourself, and open yourself up to God…that's more of a personal thing, at least it is for me, and I think that's kind of…how I would describe that.

Abe and Joleen are simple to dichotomize. I might easily construct this argument: Abe, being male, middle-aged, and experienced in ministry, represents a voice of power. His desire to de-emphasize the individual comes deep from the voice of Mennonite history, a history in which communal ideals have been a tool in the maintenance of patriarchy. Joleen, being young, female, and new to her job, is disempowered and disadvantaged, bearing the legacy of those individuals, women especially, who have been silenced, unable to express themselves in the sphere of worship. She is a lone voice fighting for her right to approach God on her own terms, rather than through the filter of a community in which she has little power.

And just as easily, I might argue this: Joleen, through her promotion of a music and worship style that is a popular and influential part of American Christianity, is asking people to turn their backs on a rich history of communal life in service to God, a history that has enabled them to resist the consumerist call of American culture. She wants them to make their own emotions their guide in worship, in defiance of their heritage. Abe, on the other hand, enables his church to ignore that same powerful call. He represents an Anabaptist ideal, that of the faithful adhering to their beliefs in face of overwhelming pressure to place their loyalties elsewhere.

I don't believe either of these models can do justice to the situation as it really is. For one thing, as individuals, neither Abe nor Joleen fits into these reductionist arguments, and neither deserves the blame implicit in them. Also, I doubt seriously that any of my Freeman consultants would find these arguments to illustrate the truth as they see it. They might believe, as I do, that in these separate scenarios are fragments of truth, not about Abe and Joleen necessarily, but about their community and its power struggles.

Works Cited

Kraybill, Donald B. The Riddle of Amish Culture. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Romanowski, William D. "Roll Over Beethoven, Tell Martin Luther the News: Evangelicals and Rock Music. Journal of American Culture. 15, no. 3 (Fall 1992): 79-88.

Wren, Brian. Praying Twice: the Music and Words of Congregational Song. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.

 

 

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